We Need to Talk About Kevin
Technically released overseas in 2011, it then flew to our shores for a limited theater run in January of 2012. Based on the novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin stars the great Tilda Swinton and is more relevant than ever in the violent wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Eva (Swinton) is the mother of Kevin, a child with serious violent tendencies and a sickening inability to relate to other human beings. As he grows older (and grows more angry), a significant question arises: in this nature vs. nurture debate, is Eva at fault when Kevin plunges to the depths of a killer? Or is Kevin's mental illness totally to blame? Swinton's performance in Kevin is one of the best of her career.
One of the most entertaining recent films to come out of Norway, Headhunters is based on a novel by the hugely popular Jo Nesbo (I just finished a book in his series of detective novels starring alcoholic cop Harry Hole). The film is totally over-the-top absurdest fun: Roger is a rich employment recruiter for a flashy company who also steals expensive pieces of art to maintain his meretricious lifestyle. When he gets introduced to Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who is Jaime Lannister of HBO's Game of Thrones fame), a man who is supposedly in possession of an extremely valuable painting, Roger gets into a violent and unbelievable cat-and-mouse game with twists and turns that are as implausible as they are fun. A strange and funny take on a common thriller story. (Subtitled.)
I'm not ashamed to admit that one of the more interesting films this year was about male strippers and starred Channing Tatum (supposedly based upon some of his real life escapades). It was also directed by Steven Soderbergh, who has a knack for making any subject--a rapidly-spreading virus in Contagion, the illegal drug trade in Traffic, whistle-blowing in The Informant!--peculiar and watchable. Mike (Tatum) has a variety of jobs, but he makes the most money working for Dallas (Matthew McConaughey in a good performance) at a high-end strip club in Tampa, FL. When Mike takes young Adam under his wing, the film fills with funny sequences and moral quandaries about capitalism and voyeurism in America, where taking your clothes off for money is sometimes the best career path.
The Queen of Versailles
Keeping with the theme about the U.S. economy, The Queen of Versailles is a documentary that is funny, touching, sad and very watchable. It's about the pursuit of the American dream, when that dream has become obtaining the biggest house ever built on American soil. Jackie and David Siegel own Westgate Resorts (a timeshare company) a hugely successful business that has made them billions. But when they try to build a 90,000 square foot house that mimics that elaborateness and intricacy of a palace, the world around them begins to crumble. Filmed over a couple of years, their empire falls and the large family tires to adapt to their new lifestyle of coupon cutting and cleaning up their own dog shit. It's an intimate look at a failing family where greed used to rule.
Shut Up and Play the Hits
Another documentary, this one my favorite of the year, almost cracking my official Top 10 list. Shut Up and Play the Hits follows the front-man (James Murphy) of LCD Soundsystem, not even arguably one of the greatest musical acts of the past 10 years, as he prepares for his final show at Madison Square Garden. Unlike 99% of the musical puke that's barfed onto radio waves, Murphy decided to end this fruitful band after only three major albums (all modern classics). His music, a blend of electronic dance/punk/indie rock, is the real showcase, as much of the documentary provides the viewer with incredible renditions of his best songs (the final concert was actually 3.5 hours, and the Blu-Ray has two separate discs showing it in its hi-def entirety). A great interview with the awesome writer Chuck Klosterman narrates much of the film as a lingering sadness starts to envelop Murphy's last hurrah. Don't mess around with this one: watch on a good sound system with the volume on high.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Released to a critical fervor at Sundance film festival earlier in the year, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a visually transfixing film with a touching story about a girl named Hushpuppy and the cutoff-from-a-flood community that she inhabits. Wandering among the elements and creatures, alone in life except for a poor, abusive father and select group of colorful and strange characters, Hushpuppy must learn to survive and thrive in a world cut off from the world. An unknown face at the incredible age of six years old, Quvenzhane Wallis embodies the character with a wonder and an aptitude that the most polished actors would be jealous of. The film's a real and original work of Americana art.